Monday, February 6, 2012

One Step Closer to Becoming a Winery

It has been a long time since I have given any update on the progress of our winery plan.  Despite my lack of updates on this subject, things are still in motion.

As everyone knows, the vineyard is in full swing.  Our grape harvest has been bountiful, and we had our first year selling grapes to our neighboring wineries last fall.

Successfully grow good wine grapes...Check!  That was step number one.

So, what is holding us back from making wine and selling it ourselves?

There are a few big things that still need to fall into place in order for us to get up and running as a winery.

First and foremost, we need to get our winery license!  We've known for the last three years, that our biggest challenge in achieving this goal is going to be with our 3 person township board.  Once we get the thumbs up from them for a conditional use permit we can move forward with getting approvals from the other government agencies.  But because our vineyard (and ultimate tasting room site) is on a gravel road, the township is not supportive of a retail business that would bring in additional traffic.  There is cost associated with dust control and they are not in favor of traffic on our old country roads. Even though we've already created jobs, employed our neighbor, and beautified the area, we are still running into this challenge.

This past fall, Aaron and I walked around to the block of neighbors that surround our property and asked them to sign a petition saying they support our intention to open a winery, even though it means increased traffic.

Every single one of them signed it.  Without question!  They were practically reaching for the pen before we even finished explaining what we were trying to do!  We got about 30 signatures on this petition.

We have great neighbors.  We really do!  Although we understand any concerns they may have about more traffic on the road, it won't really affect a lot of the neighbors who live on the "lake" side of the vineyard.  And they also know that the views they have of our vineyard from their living room windows have increased their property values; which beats the alternative of us subdividing the land and selling it to a real estate developer.  We are hopeful that having this petition will help our cause in being able to show the support we have received from all of our neighbors.

In addition to that, we are spending time updating our business plan so that when we DO go to them with this crucial request that we are prepared and have built a strong case for ourselves.

That has meant working through a lot of questions such as:  Where will the tasting room be on our property?  Will we spend money to convert the chicken coop into a tasting room or will we build a small building?  Where will the actual wine production take place?  Where will cars park?  How many cases of wine will we be producing/selling?  Which direction on our road will traffic be coming in on-the east or west side? How often do we intend to be open for business--days, hours, months of the year?  Do we plan to hold events on site in the future? Just to name a few of the more "basic" questions.

The last thing we want is to sit in front of the board being asked these questions and scratch our heads like a couple of monkeys going, "Uhhhh...hmmm.. We didn't about that yet? We don't know."

So, as unsettling as it is to be making significant investments of time and money into our winery without any reassurance that we will actually get a winery license, we feel this is the way we have to go about it in order to be successful in the long run..  And no doubt we will keep fighting until we get it!  Which means we have to keep moving forward with two other big things in order to get up and running.

Which brings me to my most exciting update.  We are now one GIGANTIC step closer to being able to open a winery.  HOW and WHAT are we going to use to make all of this wine?

Aaron found out about a winery in South Dakota that was selling its winery equipment in an entire package.  We intended to start making investments in equipment piece by piece in the coming years, but when this opportunity came up, Aaron was able to strike a deal with them to basically buy the entire package, which is essentially a small winery start-up.  We couldn't pass it up.  WOW.

On Sunday, Aaron drove a semi and my Dad followed behind with a truck and trailer and they went to South Dakota to pick up our new winery.  That sounds so crazy to say.  Our new winery!!  They left about 7am and got back at 7pm and holy cow was there a lot of stuff!  Anything we could possibly imagine to get us up and going was in that truck.  They basically, walked into this building and clean out the entire place.

So while the rest of the world was watching the Super Bowl, I was helping my husband unload 300 gallon stainless steel tanks off the lift gate of a semi.   Again, one of those things I never imagined myself doing.  Now I know how to use a lift gate...

Since most of it won't be in use until we figure out where our "official" space is going to be, we can cram it all in without worrying about set-up or access to equipment at this point.

Which is the next big thing we need to work on.  We've got the grapes and we have the equipment, but WHERE are we going to do all of this?! We have been having a lot of discussions with each other, with neighbors and contractors to make some decisions on where our processing facility, tasting room, wine storage, general operating business necessities, and parking will be.  And how can we do it all as attractively and economically as possible.  Even though we have two outbuildings already, they are now both pretty much packed to the brim.  I'm not even sure a mouse can get in there.  We've made some progress and decisions in figuring out next steps that we are excited about, but nothing final enough to post on here.  More to come!

There you have it.  We've got some big things going on and I hope to provide some more exciting updates in this coming year.  We are getting there!  Just takes some patience.  :)